Katie Hunt is the founder of Tradeshow Bootcamp, a business strategist, and mentor to creative entrepreneurs. She’s connected and supported hundreds of creative entrepreneurs through her in-person conference Paper Camp and the online courses she offers. In 2017 she launched Proof to Product, a podcast that takes listeners behind the scenes of growing a product-based business. Guests share their successes, struggles and how they’ve made difficult but important transitions in their business to continue growing.
Katie is a firm believer in professional development, surrounding yourself with community, and pushing ‘go’ even when you might not feel 100% ready. We're delighted to share her wisdom with you today and hope you'll enjoy!
Tell us about your path to becoming Katie Hunt of Tradeshow Bootcamp.
After exhibiting at the National Stationery Show for the first time in 2009 for my stationery line Kelp Designs, I wrote a blog post where I outlined tough lessons I learned as a first time exhibitor. The post sparked a number of comments and emails from fellow stationers who were considering exhibiting at the National Stationery Show but didn’t know where to begin. As the emails came in, I kept seeing the same types of questions over and over -- how much product should I bring? Where can I get this product printed? How much does a show really cost? How do I get everything to the show?
I realized there was a need in our community for business education. I was strong on the business side, whereas my colleagues were talented artists and designers (I was self taught). I knew that if we shared our collective knowledge and resources, we would all grow our businesses faster. And, soon thereafter, Tradeshow Bootcamp was born.
Launched in the Spring of 2011, Tradeshow Bootcamp programs focus on educating and connecting independent designers and product based business owners who are interested in growing their product line, selling to the wholesale market and exhibiting at wholesale shows. What started with four teleconference calls has grown into a multi-faceted education business offering conferences, courses, coaching programs and a free podcast called Proof to Product.
Had you asked me in 2011 what I’d be doing today, I probably would have told you that I’d be running Kelp Designs full time. But looking back, being a business strategist and mentor for creative entrepreneurs is the perfect fit for my skills, expertise and education. Aside from running my stationery business for 8 years, I also have a background in business -- a dual MBA in marketing and finance as well as over a decade experience in the corporate world with marketing and business development.
Over the last 7 years we’ve helped more than 800 brands strengthen their product lines and get their products on the shelves of retail stores like Target, Anthropologie, Container Store and independent boutiques internationally.
Before you were Tradeshow Bootcamp, you were Kelp Designs. What motivated you to make the switch from running your own stationery shop and how was that transition?
It was a slow, natural transition. From 2011 - 2016, I was running both businesses concurrently -- building my stationery line while also building our community of creatives. 2016 was a bit of a turning point for me and when I was forced to make some tough decisions about both businesses. This was the year I was asked to teach four classes for CreativeLive, I spoke at about 8 conferences, we were shipping out Kelp Design products to stores nationally and I was pregnant with and delivered our fourth child. By the end of the year, I was tired, my family was tired and I knew that it was time to reevaluate my priorities and schedule.
At the end of 2016 after weighing lots of different options, I decided to cease all manufacturing for Kelp Designs and focus my time and effort on Tradeshow Bootcamp. Coaching, mentoring and making an impact in other people’s businesses is where my strengths and passions lie. I wanted to give it my full attention.
You are a product business guru and our readers can learn so much from your offerings, but keeping it simple, if you could give one piece of advice (or a few ;) to illustrators/graphic designers thinking of opening their own product shop, what would it be?
Focus on creating a strong product line with a unique point of view before everything else. Most entrepreneurs want to start with branding, slick new website or setting up your business formation -- the fun stuff of starting a business! But, if you don’t have a strong product to sell, there is no sense in spending time, money and effort on marketing plans and business operations.
As you’re creating your products think of the end user -- what problems are you solving, what needs are you filling and how are you going to positively impact your customers lives with what you’re creating? Oftentimes we make things that we personally like -- but that doesn’t mean that it will be for everyone. Think of the benefits, features and ways in which your customers will use and engage with your products.
Slow steady growth is how strong businesses are built. Those companies that look like overnight successes on Instagram have likely been working at it for years behind the scenes. Be patient, be intentional with your decisions and be open to opportunities.
For Tradeshow Bootcamp you offer in person conferences, e-courses, one-on-one coaching, and so much more. How do you manage the creation and execution of so many different offerings?
Yes, we do! As of writing this we’ve hosted 15 conferences over 250 online courses and I’ve spent thousands of hours with coaching clients. I am very intentional about when and what programming we add to our Proof to Product and Tradeshow Bootcamp umbrella.
My main priority is to service our alumni community and to continue to support them with where they are in their business. As their companies have grown, they are experiencing different hurdles and need different strategies. We’re evolving with them and finding new ways to support and educate them.
For example, in 2017 I launched our Proof to Product podcast which was my way of highlighting our community members while also providing a platform for newer companies to get to know me, our programs and how we can help them. I originally wanted to do a podcast in 2015, but didn’t have the time, technical know how or ability to add that to our already busy schedule. At the end of 2016, while I was shifting away from Kelp Designs, I also decided to stop speaking at other conferences and instead launch the podcast -- less travel and more impact.
Speaking of which, what inspired you to create Proof to Product and what has been the most interesting aspect of this new offering for you?
The night before we launched Proof to Product, I remember telling my husband that I didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea whether one person would be tuning in or lots of people. He kindly offered to set up Itunes accounts for our kids so that we’d have at least 4 subscribers on launch day :) While I didn’t take him up on it, I do remember feeling uneasy about how the podcast would be perceived.
My goal for Proof to Product as a platform was to showcase our alumni -- tell their start-up stories, struggles and successes through storytelling. Internally for myself and the business, I wanted the podcast to provide visibility for me so that potential customers could get to know me and trust me as an educator and mentor. I also wanted to use the podcast as a platform for promoting our Tradeshow Bootcamp programs.
I’ve been really pleased with the impact Proof to Product has had for creative entrepreneurs making physical products. I love hearing what people are working on and how the podcast has helped them grow their business.
With the execution of all these projects in mind, do you have any tips for being your most productive?
I’m a big fan of time blocks and also batching tasks.
I have specific blocks of time dedicated to work and time dedicated to family so that one doesn’t seep into the other. I work better when I have focused time and I also don’t want work interrupting my family time. I try to create good boundaries with both my family and my team so that one doesn’t interrupt the other.
When I’m working I also like to batch tasks and create systems for things we repeat over and over. For example, I reserve 3-4 days a month to record podcast episodes and I typically record 2-3 each day. My interviews are stronger when my attention is fully focused on one task for the day and batching allows my team to get ahead of schedule. For things like our courses and conferences where I’ve offered them several times, we have a workflow that we’ve created with step by step instructions of everything that needs to get done before we launch, during the sales period and as we’re running the programs. I highly recommend mapping out different steps and tasks. It’s particularly helpful to have when you start bringing on a team.
What has been your greatest struggle as a creative entrepreneur so far?
I’ve been an entrepreneur for 10 years now and so I’ve had my fair share of speed bumps, but one thing that has been a consistent struggle for me is time management. I am great at being organized, mapping out plans, delegating and I’m highly driven to get things done. However, I tend to underestimate how long things will take and I have a hard time saying no. Couple this with too many ideas and there just isn’t enough time in the day to implement everything ;)
However, I have made huge improvements over the last several years. I’m asking for help more, being more selective in the projects I say yes to and I’m trying to not take on too much at once. Key word, trying!
You are a strong believer in the importance of finding your tribe. Do you have any tips for building and maintaining an authentic and nurturing community as a freelancer/business owner?
I am! I believe that having a strong support system and a community of colleagues who understand the ups & downs of entrepreneurialism is a critical component to building a successful business.
Some key things I’d consider when looking for your community of people:
- Look for people running similar businesses. Products vs Service.
- If products, look for people in a similar industry. If services, look for people who sell similar services - courses, coaching, web development, graphic design, etc.
- Look for people who are at a similar phase of business. If you’ve been in business for 5 years you want to look for people with 5-8 years experience rather than brand new companies.
In terms of where to find them:
- Join facebook groups for freelancers and entrepreneurs. However, if a group is not a fit move on and find another. You’ll know when a group is a good fit.
- Join a mastermind program or create one of your own. A mastermind is a group of peers who meet regularly to support each other, brainstorm ideas and serve as a sounding board on big decisions.
- Consider taking a course, group coaching program or hire a coach that has experience working with companies like yours. They will offer new perspectives and solutions specific to your business.
Ultimately, you want to find people that will support you, lift you up and understand what you’re working towards, whether that’s family, friends or other entrepreneurs.
You are a mother of four, could you tell us a bit about how you balance (or...don't balance!) motherhood & entrepreneurship?
Interesting fact: My husband has never been asked how he balances parenting and work. Yet, today I have been asked this question four times.
I was recently inspired by author Lauren Groff’s response to this question, so I’ll leave it here:
“I understand that this is a question of vital importance to many people, particularly to other mothers who are artists trying to get their work done, and know that I feel for everyone in the struggle. But until I see a male writer asked this question, I’m going to respectfully decline to answer it.”
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
I’m a huge advocate for delegating the things you’re not good at, that you don’t have time to learn or that someone else could do better than you. As business owners we need to be focusing on the highest level, revenue generating projects -- and delegating the nitty gritty stuff that someone else can do.
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should be the one doing it.
Don’t be afraid to consider part time, contractors -- hiring doesn’t have to involve full time employees with benefits and payroll -- there are a lot of people that want part time flexible work.
Every time I’ve hired someone for my business, the company has grown, our revenue has increased and my stress levels have decreased.
Any music, podcast, or books that you are finding particularly exciting or inspiring lately?
I love listening to podcasts while I work - How I Built This, Productivity Paradox, Day in The Life and Creative Biz Rebellion are some of my favorites.
A few of my favorite books include Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis, Anything You Want by Derek Sivers and Work Your Wealth by Mary Beth Storjohann.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Confidence, Empathy and Fortitude.